Authors: James Becker
Gary Marsh was facing something of a crisis of conscience. On the one hand, he was being paid well—paid extremely well, in fact—to follow and monitor Robin Jessop. On the other, he now knew beyond doubt that a second team of at least two men was also in the game, because he’d seen them, and those men obviously had a very different agenda from his.
Nobody in Britain carried a firearm unless they intended to use it, because private ownership of handguns had been made illegal years earlier, and to be caught in possession of such a weapon invariably led to a mandatory prison sentence. That legislation had been the result of a knee-jerk reaction by the British government and had resulted, predictably enough, in an overall
in gun crime since the move passed into law. Criminals intent on robbery, for example, knew that they faced prison if
caught. But they also knew that carrying a weapon would give them enough of an edge over the usually unarmed British police officers that their chances of getting away were significantly increased. So why wouldn’t they go tooled up? It would be stupid of them not to.
At least one of the two men who were obviously following Robin Jessop had been carrying a pistol, and it seemed unlikely that robbery was his motive. That, to Marsh, raised a much darker possibility. Was she on somebody’s hit list? He didn’t know her, but he had found out quite a lot about her as part of his research, and unless she had a really well-hidden criminal past that had attracted somebody’s unwelcome attention, he didn’t think she deserved to die.
Then there was the matter of his fee. Put simply, he’d been paid well over the odds, something like twice what he would normally have charged, for the job he’d been given. And that didn’t really make sense. Or, rather, it made sense in only one context: the senior police officer—and Marsh still had no doubt at all that the anonymous voice on his mobile belonged to such a man—had been desperate for him to drop everything else and take the job. Which was, of course, exactly what he’d done.
Marsh didn’t know whether to believe his employer’s protestations of ignorance about the other two men. He could easily have employed another group to dog Marsh’s footsteps, relying on his expertise in surveillance to locate their quarry, and have told them to terminate Jessop as soon as they got the chance. He could be using Marsh as a kind of stalking horse, and if that were the case, he
might well have also issued orders to the other men to kill him at the same time, to snip off a potential loose end.
The other scenario, that the police officer was telling the truth and the other men were working on behalf of somebody else entirely, differed only in the details.
In either case, Marsh was acutely aware that he was inevitably in the firing line, and that was a position that he didn’t like at all.
He leaned back in his chair at the corner table in the small café where he’d stopped for a drink and a sandwich before returning to his rented apartment in the city, and stared out of the slightly grimy window. He really didn’t know what to do for the best. Terminating his services might possibly be the safest move, but the downside to that was that if he dumped his employer and walked away, he might well find that his name suddenly popped up on somebody’s hit list, because he was without doubt a loose end, and loose ends could cause problems.
Without really even being aware of it, Gary Marsh shook his head, having come to a decision. He would stay in play, carry on doing whatever his anonymous employer tasked him with. But he would definitely keep his eyes and ears open, even more so than usual, just in case.
He picked up his mobile from the table in front of him and dialed his employer’s number from memory.
“I’m back in Exeter,” he said when his call was answered.
“Okay. Good. Stay put. Just be ready to move as soon as we’ve triangulated Jessop’s location. That shouldn’t take too long.”
Marsh ended the call with a slight smile on his face.
The other man didn’t know it yet, but he had a feeling that tracking down Robin Jessop was just about to get a whole lot harder.
He took a notebook out of his pocket, flicked through it until he found the page he needed, read a mobile phone number from it, and dialed.
Outskirts of Okehampton, Devon
As Mallory turned his attention back to the printed photographs, Robin’s phone rang. She glanced at the mobile before answering it.
“It’s a private number,” she said, then swiped her finger across the screen. “Hullo?”
She listened for a few seconds, the expression on her face changing; then she interrupted the caller. “Wait. I’m putting you on speaker. He’s right here with me.”
Mallory gave her a quizzical glance as she placed her finger over the microphone. “Who is it?”
“I don’t know and I don’t recognize his voice. But he says he knows who we are, and he’s got something important to tell us.”
Robin selected the speaker option, took her finger off the microphone, and nodded. “Right, you’re on speaker and we’re listening. First of all, what’s your name?”
The caller gave a short chuckle before he replied, “My name really isn’t of the slightest importance, but you can call me John. What matters is the message, not the messenger.”
,” Robin replied, her voice emphasizing the obviously false name he had given. “So what’s the message?”
“It’s not so much a message as a warning. As I said, you don’t need to know who I am, but you do need to know what I do. My job is surveillance, and at this precise moment that actually means surveillance of you two. Somebody hired me to keep an eye on you, Robin. I don’t know who the man is and I don’t know his reason for wanting you followed, because that’s not the way this business works. I don’t need to know. I’m just a watcher. That’s what I do.”
The anonymous caller’s frank admission came as a surprise to both Robin and Mallory.
“So you’re not a part of the police force or one of the security services?” Mallory asked.
“No chance. I’m strictly freelance. It pays better and there’s an almost total absence of bullshit and form filling. But all that’s irrelevant. The important thing is that I picked up your trail in Exeter, where I thought you might have done rather better than the café that you chose, and then I trundled down to Dartmouth after you. Swapping cars was probably a good idea, because that Porsche really does stand out. Now, have I got your attention?”
Robin’s face was clouded with fury, and she opened her mouth with the apparent intention of telling the caller
precisely what she thought of him and his job, but Mallory held up a restraining hand and then replied.
“Okay,” he said. “You’ve convinced me that you’ve been following us, but what I still don’t understand is why you’re talking to us. I presume you haven’t just called us to gloat about how clever you are.”
“No. I’m calling you because of something that happened while I was at Dartmouth. I’d already called my employer to tell him that you’d left the town, but before I left the place myself I saw someone break into your flat, Robin, using a jemmy to force the door. At the very least you’re going to need someone to go round and secure it. Otherwise I have no doubt any valuables you keep in there will vanish.”
If anything, Robin looked even more irritated than she had a few seconds earlier, but again Mallory replied before she had the chance.
“That’s very public-spirited of you,” he said. “Leaving aside the possibility that it was actually you who forced the door of Robin’s apartment—assuming that that really did happen and you’re not just making all this up—I still don’t understand why you’re talking to us.”
“I called you because I’m reasonably certain that the man who broke into the flat was carrying a pistol, and you both seem like quite decent people, despite the interest that the local woodentops appear to be taking in you. So really, this is just a heads-up, a warning that you appear to have at least one armed man following you around, and I doubt very much if those two people—whoever they are—have your best interests at heart.”
“Whereas you do, I suppose?” Robin snapped.
“I don’t know you. All I’m doing is telling you what I saw. What you do about it is entirely up to you.”
“Can you prove what you’re telling us?” Mallory asked.
“I already have, actually. When Robin calms down a bit, why don’t you ask her to check her messages? I filmed the entire event and I’ve sent a copy to her business e-mail account.”
“I suppose you didn’t think about doing anything other than filming it?” Robin demanded. “Like trying to stop them? Or calling the police? Anything helpful like that?”
“I don’t mess about with people carrying weapons. I live my life in the shadows, and I’m really happy to keep it that way. By the way, don’t bother trying to trace the e-mail. I used a VPN and bounced it through a bunch of proxies, so it’s as totally anonymous as makes no difference. But if you send a reply to the same address, I will get it.”
Mallory glanced at Robin, who was already checking the messages on her laptop.
“Well, thanks,” Mallory said. “Is there anything else you’ve got to tell us?”
“Only a piece of advice,” “John” replied. “I’m sure Okehampton is a pretty good place to stay for a few days. On the edge of the moor, quiet and peaceful, all that kind of thing. But if I were you I wouldn’t hang around. If I can triangulate your location based on the phone that you’re listening to me on right now, I don’t think it’s too big a leap to guess that maybe the bad guys can do the
same thing. My advice is to dump that phone, or at least pull out the battery, buy yourselves a couple of burners, and get yourselves somewhere else real quick.”
“Oh, shit,” Robin said.
“I think that covers it,” Mallory replied. “Thanks, John. Whoever you are.”
The sound of the mobile phone ringing filled the interior of the parked car. The passenger hadn’t been expecting it, and he fumbled in his pocket to pull out the phone.
“What does he want now?” the driver muttered.
The passenger glanced at the screen of the mobile, shrugged, and answered the call, putting the phone on speaker as he did so. Only one other person had the number of the phone, so neither man was in any doubt about the identity of the caller.
“Yup?” he said.
“Where are you?”
“Where you told us to be. Outside the hotel, with eyes on the target car. Sitting and waiting.”
“Good. Listen. There’s been a development. A few minutes ago the woman’s phone was switched off completely and we lost triangulation on it. The most likely
explanation is that the battery went flat, and it’ll come back online once she’s connected the charger.”
“Yeah,” the passenger said. “Or just maybe she’s finally realized that having it switched on is like waving a big red flag and saying ‘Here I am’ to everyone. So is it still a go or does this change something?”
“I’ve heard nothing new from Italy, so it’s still on. This call was a heads-up, just in case she does something unexpected. Let me know when it’s done.”
The passenger checked that the call had ended, then glanced at the driver.
“Interesting,” he said. “I thought he was the principal, but from the sound of it he’s taking orders from somebody else. Someone in Italy, no less. Maybe we’re working for the bloody Mafia now.”
The driver nodded. “He’s probably just a cutout, so the back trail stops with him. But as long as he makes the payment to us when we’ve done the job, I don’t care who he’s working for.”
* * *
Ten minutes later Mallory was standing just outside the main door of the hotel, bags in both hands, carefully scrutinizing the parking lot and the street outside the building for any sign of the Ford sedan that had appeared so clearly in the digital video “John” had sent to Robin’s business e-mail account. Robin was inside at reception, checking out of the hotel and pleading a family emergency as the reason for their unexpectedly quick departure.
As far as Mallory could tell, it was all clear, and after a few moments he strode over toward Robin’s Golf, pressing
the remote control to unlock it as he approached the vehicle. He opened the hatchback, took another look around him, put the bags inside, and then closed the hatch. Then he walked around the car, opened the passenger-side door, took a fairly heavy black package from his jacket pocket, and slid it under the front of the passenger seat.
Seconds later Robin walked out of the hotel, quickly glanced all around her, and then walked briskly over to the car. The strap of her handbag was over her shoulder, and inside the bag were the pieces of her smartphone: the body, battery, back, and SIM card. Mallory had reduced the mobile to its component parts within seconds of ending the unexpected call from “John.”
“I’ll drive,” she said briskly, “just in case we meet any opposition, because I’m a whole lot faster than you. I hope you’ve got the weapon somewhere convenient. There may not be time to stop the car and dig around in our luggage for it.”
Mallory tossed her the keys.
“Just what I was going to suggest,” he said. “You driving, I mean. And yes, the pistol’s tucked under the passenger seat. Out of sight, obviously, but ready to hand if we need it.”
“Which way?” Robin asked, pulling her seat belt tight and turning the key to start the engine of the Volkswagen.
“Head east to Exeter,” Mallory said without hesitation. “That’s not where I want to end up, but that’s the fastest road out of Okehampton and we just need to put some distance between us and this place.”
Robin put the car in gear and steered it out of the car park and onto the street. There was a sat nav on the dashboard, but there was no need for her to use it because there was a clear direction sign visible just a few tens of yards ahead. She drove up to the junction, checked the crossing traffic, indicated, and swung the car onto the eastbound carriageway.
* * *
Less than ten seconds after Robin had made the turn, a black BMW repeated the maneuver and began following the Golf, matching its speed and staying about one hundred yards behind. The two men inside the car had been frustrated at the hotel, precisely because it was a hotel, because their orders were to complete their task out of the public eye. They’d hoped that their quarry would go for a walk or at least leave the building at some point, which would have allowed them to do their job. But when they’d seen the man Mallory carry the bags out of the building, they’d realized that their best opportunity had just presented itself.
The car was one of three they used on a regular basis. They’d decided not to use the Ford after they got back from Dartmouth, just in case somebody had seen them there and noted the number, and the BMW was a faster vehicle, which they’d guessed might be important if they ended up chasing their targets across Devon.
The car was street legal in every respect but two. The registration plate was a fake, bearing the number of a virtually identical BMW that they’d identified weeks earlier. That meant they could ignore speed cameras and the
like because the subsequent ticket would be sent to the owner of that other vehicle.
The second modification was far from obvious. Fitted within the engine compartment was a two-tone siren and concealed behind the front grille and built into the rear lamp clusters were high-intensity flashing lamps fitted with blue bulbs. Both pieces of equipment were controlled by hidden switches in the car, and were exactly the same specification as the devices installed on unmarked police vehicles and that, of course, was precisely the point. On anything except the most detailed inspection, the car appeared to be a standard BMW, but once on the road activating the lights and the siren gave the sedan the unmistakable appearance of a police vehicle.
“Bit of luck, this,” the passenger said, his eyes fixed on the target vehicle.
“Been better if they’d taken a walk,” the driver replied. “Could have wrapped it all up back in the town if they had.”
“This’ll do. Just wait for them to stop for a drink or fuel or something, and then we’ll take them. And if they don’t stop, we’ll stop them ourselves,” he added.
The passenger slid his hand inside his jacket and pulled out a Browning Hi-Power semiautomatic pistol. He released the magazine from the butt and used his thumb to strip each round from the top of the magazine, the ammunition forming a small golden pile in his lap, the brass cartridge cases and the copper-jacketed bullets looking deceptively innocent. Then he fed the rounds back into the magazine one at a time, reloading it, and reinserted it in the pistol.
“I don’t know why you bother doing that,” the driver remarked, his attention still focused on the road ahead.
“It’s supposed to reduce the chances of a jam. By unloading it you release the spring in the magazine and make sure that each round can feed freely. I’ve always done it before a job. It’s just one of the things I do.”
“I know, but I still don’t know why you bother. My pistol never jams on me, and all I ever do is pull the trigger.”
The passenger pulled back the slide of the pistol, ejecting the round that was already in the chamber, then let it run forward again, loading a new round and cocking the weapon. Finally he set the safety catch, removed the magazine once more, added the ejected round to it, and replaced it in the butt of the Browning before sliding the pistol back into his shoulder holster.
“I know this road,” the driver said, “and there are a couple of parking areas coming up, and the traffic is pretty light. We can use the blues and twos and get them off the road that way.”
His companion nodded and once again checked his pistol.
“That works for me,” he said. “Let’s get this done.”